Thursday, April 29, 2010

Maybe you’ve just not seen it done right.

I recently listened to a webinar with Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing discussing Product Management in the Agile world. Steve speculated that the Product Owner role was created by developer's because 'maybe they'd never really worked with good product mangers before.' In other words rather than trying to fix the problems they had working with product managers, it was easier for them to create a completely new solution.

It caught my ear – Steve described a situation I have seen many times before. I see it working with clients when I'm trying to figure out the root causes of their productivity issues. I often see situations where rather than try and fix a problem, a completely new solution has been adopted. Trouble is, the new solution often introduces its' own particular set of problems. The problem has just been changed, not fixed.

Why does it always seem to turn out like this? First, it's easy to see why it happens. People often focus only on the shortcomings in what they currently do. When it comes to new solutions, ideas, they only see the upside and possibilities they represent. After all they usually don't have experience implementing it.

Second, it's only once you've started to implement your new idea, its' unique shortcomings are readily apparent. Our challenge we don't recognize new ideas are always presented in the most favourable terms – the Cinderella situation. The reality, most of our workplaces are rarely ideal – to coin a phrase used by Jennitta Andrea they are more like "the ugly step-sister" situation. In short, new ideas are more seductive than the hard work of trying to make an existing process work, or group of people deliver what you need.

Maybe they've just never seen it done right before? If they had, would they still have made such a significant change? Some might. I suspect most would try and fix their situation to more resemble what they had done right. After all –"Rip & Replace", which is what the new solution represents, sends shivers down most people.

You can avoid this. To do so you must carefully think your problem through. If you start to try and solve the problem before it's fully understood, chances are you will end up in the situation I just described.

So the next time you're considering arguing for organizational or process change consider these 7 points.

  • Make sure you have a handle on the root causes of the situation, not just the problem symptoms. When you get to the root causes, you'll often find the new solution you were considering is no longer as attractive.
  • If you are unsure if you have identified the root-causes, or if there is a lot riding on fixing the situation, consider getting a second opinion.
  • Consider also how the problem impacts you, your team, or your business. Is the impact felt in business outcomes, or productivity? Is it an issue of effectiveness or efficiency? If there are positive outcomes from fixing the problems, who else would benefit when they are fixed?
  • Also be sure to ask yourself what it will take to fix the problems. Be reasonable, realistic in your expectations. It will take time to fix something that took a while to get to this point.
  • Keep in mind that to do this right, you're going to be investing some of your own personal credibility in the solution. You want to put forward a solution that delivers; otherwise the credibility you currently enjoy could be impacted.
  • If you've convinced yourself you need a new solution – ask yourself why do I believe something I don't really know about will be better than what's in place today, and won't have its own particular issues? If you've thought it through, you're less likely to be caught out by unforeseen surprises.
  • Lastly be sure to ask yourself, could it be "Maybe I've just not seen it done right before"?



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